By Deepak Chopra, MD
Whether you call it your spiritual life, your inner journey, or a search for a higher power, there is a necessary process, known as waking up. It consists of no longer being unaware. By growing more conscious, you give up many things you once took for granted. You recognize that they were illusions, unproven assumptions, and second-hand opinions.
You can take a major step toward waking up right this minute. All you need to do is answer one question: Who are you? This question is about your identity, which everyone takes for granted –so much so, in fact, that we lose ourselves in an illusion without ever realizing it.
Let’s start without any assumptions. Drop your assumption that you already know who you are, because what people really know is not who they really are but their story. Your story consists of everything you have amassed in the past through experience, belief, successes and failures, likes and dislikes. When you identify with these things, you mistake a dead relic of the past for who you really are. Your story might be good or bad, something to be proud of or not, filled with experiences you want to hold on to and others you would rather forget. None of this really matters when you want to know who you really are. You are more than your story.
So where can you go to find your real identity?
To find out who you really are, you must look into the human mind, where everything about you begins. Most people leave the human mind to the experts, but this poses a problem. The problem relates to an old joke that goes like this: A policeman walks up to a man who is searching on his hands and knees under a streetlight. “What are you looking for?” the policeman asks. “My keys,” the man replies. “Is this where you lost them?” the policeman says. “No,” the man replies, “but the light is better here.”
You will wind up in the middle of this joke if you try to locate the human mind by the light of physical science, which focuses on the brain. It’s more convenient to look for the mind inside the brain because the brain is a thing, a three-pound object to be dissected and examined; its activity flashes on brain scans, and the existence of perhaps a quadrillion connections inside the brain gives huge scope for neuroscience. To completely map the brain is now within reach and will prove to be the greatest achievement in biology since the mapping of the human genome.
But unfortunately, the brain is the wrong place to look for finding your self. If you leave all assumptions aside, it is undeniable that you go through life by experiencing it. You feel; you perceive; you pay attention; you find meaning and purpose in your experiences. Your brain does none of these things. There is no model of the brain, however sophisticated, that shows that the brain creates any experience.
The fact that your brain is active in every experience does not mean it has experience, any more than a piano, whose keys are constantly moving during a performance, experiences music. Physical objects are not experiencers, but you are. So who are you? An experiencer. This makes a good beginning, but it is only a first step. As soon as you see that you are an experiencer, two other traits instantly emerge. You exist; you are aware.
In these three things—existence, experience, and awareness—you have answered the question, “Who am I?” Waking up has begun in earnest. The path that lies ahead of you is uniquely your own. No one will experience life exactly as you will; no one will be aware of exactly the same things you will be aware of. But there are moments of awakening that have been reported on the path for centuries.
Among the most important are these:
- Existence cannot be taken away from you. Non-existence is an impossibility.
- You are not bound within the confines of a body and the span of a lifetime.
- You are as unbounded as consciousness itself, as limitless as existence, as timeless as eternity. These are basic qualities, not metaphysical conceptions invented in some kind of philosophical hyperspace.
- The purpose of your life is purely and simply to wake up. This purpose was handed to you the moment you took your first step of waking up. In your first step you discarded the illusion that you are your story. There are more illusions to discard, and until they are completely gone, you will not be completely aware.
- Existence is always conscious.
- Everything that exists is part of the play of consciousness as it endlessly transforms itself. When you are awake, you can fully participate in this play, the cosmic dance of creation.
These realizations come naturally and effortlessly. They do not have to be worked for. You don’t need special gifts of any kind. The only requirement is to start disbelieving in your story. By focusing so exclusively on it, you are building up a drawer of dead letters. You don’t have to wait to die; your story consists of dead experiences pretending to be alive through repetition. In reality, you are as alive as the next moment, the next perception, the next experience. Nothing and no one can take away or even touch who you really are. Existence, experience, and awareness are yours forever, transcending past, present, and future. The beauty of waking up is that it is available here and now. Blink your eyes, and you are there.